Dining Out for Dieters

One of the most stressful parts that comes with being on a diet is feeling as though you need to avoid your friends and family members around meal times and needing to turn down dinner invitations to go out and eat at restaurants. Be honest, you basically crawl under a rock to avoid temptation. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Take it from the person who’s job it is to be a human hanger – unless you are going to an ice cream shop, there are ways to get around the high calorie menus at any restaurant you choose. You just need to know what to look for, what to avoid, and how to work in a small frame.

  1. Read the menu online before going

Preparation is huge. A person who fails to prepare is preparing to fail. There are no excuses for this – you are online now, you can open up another tab in your browser, Google the place you plan on eating at with the words “nutrition info” at the end, and nine times out of 10 the full menu will pop up with the information you need. Some places have a more detailed list that includes more than just calories, but even if all the site provides are the calories on every dish, you are golden. Do not think for a second that the “I’ll just order a salad” method will work. Go on and read the stats, you’ll be surprised to find that at most places, a salad as an entree has more calories than a bison burger. Yes, you read that right. Salads and other “green” dishes at restaurants, though advertised as healthy, are actually more calorie-dense than many of the other options on the menu with all of the toppings that are included. Look around a little bit, and don’t be afraid to even look at the dessert menu. The numbers may surprise you.

2. Order water

This may seem basic, but this is the one staple that will always hold true. There is no better beverage on the planet for you than good old fashioned agua. Sure, while it’s not the most entertaining drink, soft drinks run around 150 calories per 12 oz, and assuming you’ll probably drink 2-3 glasses, that’s 3-500 calories you can easily avoid right off the bat. If you’re like me, you’d much rather eat your calories in French fries, and now you can. If you hate water that much, then invest in a small Crystal Light or Mio water-flavoring liquid that you can squirt right into your glass. These are a life saver, a must-have for anyone trying to cut back on calories but refuse to sacrifice flavor. I have one in my bag right now, they are amazing.

3. Drink at least one full glass of water before the food arrives at the table

This is one trick I learned when I was doing research on how to curb cravings. Oftentimes, people mistake dehydration for hunger, and are actually just in need of water and not food. One of the few tricks that has really helped me cut back on the amount of food I was consuming was by drinking at least one glass of water before a meal. This comes out long before your food is ready anyway, go ahead and drink the whole glass. This way, by the time the food arrives at the table, you know that what you are feeling is in fact hunger, and should be addressed with proper nutrition. This will also help aid in proper digestion and distribution of nutrients throughout the body. You will be surprised to find out that you may not be able to finish the whole meal, because you were in fact not as hungry as you think. Don’t worry, just take it home with you and enjoy the rest for lunch the next day.

4. Put it on the side

This ties back into checking the menu before going into the restaurant. The reason those salads are so many calories is because of the toppings that are on them. This includes any oils they were cooked in, or any dressings/sauces that is put on the dish as well. While a cobb salad may sound healthy, the egg, bacon, avocado, nuts/seeds, dressing and cheese each have a shockingly high amount of calories. These are by no means portioned out properly, and are oftentimes handed out in bulk. When it comes to these types of dishes, try putting as much of the toppings you can on the side, including the dressing. This way, you only really put on what you want, and can avoid hundreds of calories simply because you decided after all you didn’t want to put the half cup of bacon on the salad. because it was too much. In addition, choosing a vinaigrette or a lower-fat dressing is huge. On burgers, wraps, pizza and tacos, this can be done as well. There is no harm in putting it all on the side, it gives you complete control to make your sandwich how you want anyway. How many times have you ordered something at a restaurant and later thought, “Oh man, I really could have done without all that extra cheese, that was just too much,” and feeling guilty as hell later? Avoid that gross feeling, just talk to your server and they will help you.

5. TALK TO YOUR SERVER

If you have questions, ASK. Your server is not just there to simply take your order to the kitchen, they are there to make your dining experience memorable and enjoyable. They are experts on the menu and are trained to know how everything is made. They will be able to tell you almost anything from portion sizes, to healthier dressing options, and in most cases can even tell you the nutrition content on some of the popular menu items. It is their job to be as knowledgable as possible on the menu for this very reason, to assist you in any way they can. Take advantage of it, and make them work for their tip. If you want to know what the vegetables are cooked in, ask. If you want to know if your burger can be wrapped in lettuce instead, just ask. If they don’t know, they will be able to find out for you, and sometimes will even provide you with the entire nutrition menu as well. Trust me, you are not the first person to ask. Most of the time, vegetables and other “green” menu items are cooked in cups of olive or peanut oil for flavor, adding HUNDREDS of calories to something that is supposed to be extremely healthy for you. If you would like your veggies to be cooked with nonstick cooking spray, just ask, and they will be easily able to accommodate you. Any restaurant that isn’t willing to assist you in making the best choice possible is not a place that will be open for very long. An additional requirement of their position is COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY AND HONESTY. They are NOT allowed to lie about anything in terms of the menu or nutritional content, this is a HUGE violation of numerous health code laws. Take it from someone who spent a few years serving, servers are your survival guide to uncovering all the healthy hacks. You’d be surprised at what they know, and what they will tell you.

These are probably not the most shocking five rules you’ve ever heard, but they are incredibly important. Sometimes we all just need a friendly reminder that just because you cannot explicitly see the nutritional content in front of you, doesn’t mean “calories don’t count” or that you won’t absolutely hate yourself the next morning when you step on the scale. If it helps, write these five things down in your phone and take them with you. I hope these tips help you in the way they’ve been an incredible asset to me. Since doing basic research and applying a few tricks, I have been able to stay lean and still enjoy time out with friends and family.

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